Thursday, October 25, 2007

who's in control here?

Last Thursday on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman was talking with Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization that is suing Blackwater for the September 16 killings in Baghdad. They also represent Guantanamo prisoners, and Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen that our government, if you hadn't heard, abducted, interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned for nearly a year…by mistake…perhaps because they thought they had Bill Maher?

About 31 minutes into the podcast, Goodman presented a clip of George W. Bush from April 2006 that particularly caught my attention (bracket comments are mine):

AMY GOODMAN: In April of last year, President Bush spoke at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. After his talk, he took questions from students at the school.

STUDENT: My question is in regards to private military contractors. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple of months ago what law governs their actions. Mr. Rumsfeld --

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. [He gets a big laugh from the audience, and the student, taken aback, breaks into nervous laughter that takes her several seconds to control.] Help.

STUDENT: I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. [Bush shrugs.] Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws, which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against -- you know, over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding. [Bush gets more laughs, and giggles sheepishly as he continues to make light of his own ignorance, with mannerisms reminiscent of Johnny Carson.] I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never -- I really will. I’m going to call the secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? It’s -- that’s how I work.

Decide for yourself whether Bush is actually dumb, or is just pretending. “You want to weep for America when you see that, ” Michael Ratner remarked, and in fact, I was beginning to do just that, quite literally. Actual tears welled up as his flip joking comments brought to mind all the people hurt, maimed, and displaced─all the unthinkable things that have befallen tens of thousands─ because of a President who lacks the humanity to bother himself with important facts that affect human lives.

Tears welled, but I didn’t actually cry because, like so many Americans, I've become numb to the atrocities that have become commonplace as a result of the unchecked War on Terror. Let's not dwell on secret prisons, torture, the convenient disregard of habeas corpus, and the suspension of judicial and Congressional oversight.

It's been reported that Bush, by his own admission, frequently cries at night. I really don't know what to think of this. I don't see it in the body language of this self-proclaimed compassionate conservative.

So many of the violations of the Bush Administration are done openly because it has a wild card called the War on Terror. When clear abuses of power are confronted with challenges in the courts, they always have the same response: these cases can't go through because it would reveal national secrets and threaten national security.

The national secret that they're guarding most tenaciously is the very fact of their rampant misconduct, and the assaults on the Constitution and the cherished principles and ideals of the United States of America. I believe the quaint but relevant phrase for what they're protecting is Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The stench of mendacity, the arrogance of authority, the audacity of unchecked power pervades our society. It's remarkable that more people aren't marching in the streets, demanding action from Congress, demanding responsible reporting from the major media outlets. How much farther must things go before our outrage finds a natural outlet through effective protests and meaningful action? Will it be too late by then?

The brainwashing machine chugs along. We don't like the idea of starting a war in Iran, but the rotten winds of war are rapidly picking up speed anyway, and reasonable thinking people, all too familiar with the smell, roll their eyes, and say, "That idiot Bush and his puppetmaster Cheney are up to their old tricks again."

Maybe people comfort themselves with the fact that the end of the Bush-Cheney term is in sight. But, how many more U.S. soldiers and Iraqis need to die in the meantime, and how many Iranis must now face the same peril from yet another unprovoked assault?

Well, they could have the knowledge to build a “nucular” bomb, and that's good enough, says our blithe president. This program would create a new front for aggression, violence, atrocity, and the squandering of billions of more dollars, which will of course continue into the next president's administration. Can we stop it, or are we powerless?

As so often happens when I think about the policies of George W. Bush, I have wandered from the specific topic, which, in this case, was Blackwater.

On Tuesday Condoleezza Rice ordered tougher oversight of private guards in Iraq, including tighter rules on the use of force. She also ordered sensitivity training. Now, there's a concept. Blatant disregard for human life is out, boys! I'm waiting to hear what she has to say about accountability and bringing to justice those contractors guilty of war crimes.

I wonder about that young student at Johns Hopkins University. Who was she? She was bright enough to realize this was an important issue way back in April of 2006, even while the President was blissfully and willfully oblivious. She asked an intelligent question, was disarmed at first by a Presidential wisecrack, but then recovered to deliver a cogent follow-up. As Amy Goodman remarked, "It might be a lesson to some reporters on how to ask a question."

    What I was listening to while writing this blog entry:

  • Faux Pas─M’Bilia Bel─Bameli Soy
  • Hallelujah─k.d. lang─Hymns Of The 49th Parallel
  • Without Your Love─Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra─Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of American Music
  • Never Say Never─Romeo Void
  • And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine─Ella Fitzgerald─Ella Fitzgerald: The War Years (1941 - 1947)
  • Devil’s Lullaby─Slaid Cleaves─On the Air: KUSP’s Live Music Sessions
  • Joseph Haydn: Schlaf In Deiner Engen Kammer─Victoria De Los Angeles, soprano; Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano─The Fabulous Victoria De Los Angeles
  • "Louis Collins"─Mississippi John Hurt
  • Weiss: Suite Nr.21 in g minor: La Babilieuse en Menuet─Konrad Junghänel, lute─Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Ouverture & Suites
  • Celia─Bud Powell, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Max Roach, drums─Bud Powell: Modern Jazz Archive, Disc 1: Tempus Fugit

Sunday, October 14, 2007

ten limericks

A while ago I promised someone I would post some of my limericks. I'm occasionally true to my word, so here's a few:

A martini, ice cold, held aloft
Is a sight that I've never scoffed,
But the shape of the glass
Makes it easy to splash
So I've spilled much more than I've quaffed.

A young lass from Kansas named Dorothy,
Said she wanted a mate who was swarthy;
Yet the burlap‑faced strawman,
The tin‑colored woodsman,
And the auburn‑maned lion weren't worthy.

Al Gore stands for me as a mentor;
Unflustered by any dissenter,
He may not have won,
But, son of a gun,
He'll always succeed as inventor.

An Indian Sikh named Arjuna
Had trouble flensing a tuna,
Its viscera burst,
Beheading a tour’st,
And the flesh sank in the laguna.

There's a term on a ship when you're sailing
For the part that is sort of a railing
The word used is "gunwale";
And that rhymes with funnel,
Which leaves this son-of-a-gun wailing.

A captain once sailed from Nantucket
And nailed to the mast a gold ducat.
He wove a wild tale
Of a wan chunky whale
So his men from the sea would go pluck it.

The limerick form is distinct
For its rhyme scheme compatibly linked
With anapest meter,
Like waltz steps in theater,
To deliver a punch line unkinked.

Some limerick types are prolific
Yet stray from the rules quite specific
I say its a waste
To write in such haste:
The returns on good form are terrific.

A stripper there was named Fiona
Whose breasts were well known in Daytona.
The nipples of each,
Just as soft as a peach
Were ringed by a fuzzy corona.

There once was a woman Miranda
Who sat in a large jacaranda.
Its pale purple flowers
Enthralled her for hours
While she completely neglected her panda.

    From a bygone playlists

  • Dopey Joe─Slim Gaillard─Slim Gaillard: Laughing in Rhythm
  • Taksim in Hijaz─Seif Salim Saleh─Global Meditation
  • We Saw Jerry's Daughter─Camper Van Beethoven
  • Don't Think Twice, It's All Right─Bob Dylan & The Band─Before the Flood
  • Tarif "Allah! Muhammad, The Four Friends, Hajji Khwaja Qutb arid!"─Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
  • Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs; III. Love Bade Me Welcome─Hickox Conducts Vaughan Williams
  • Gustav Holst: The Mystic Trumpeter, Op.18─Royal Scottish National Orchestra; David Lloyd-Jones, conductor─Holst: The Planets
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: La clemenza di Tito: “Deh, per questo instante solo”─Magdalena Kožená, mezzo-soprano; Prague Philharmonia, Michel Swierczewski, conductor─Le Belle Immagini
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams (Text by A.E. Housman):
    Along the Field:
    · We’ll to the woods no more
    · Along the field
    · The half-moon westers low
    · In the mornings
    · The sigh that heaves the grasses
    · Good-bye
    · Fancy’s Knell
    · With rue my heart is laden─John Mark Ainsley, tenor; Leo Phillips, violin─Vaughan Williams: Along the Field, On Wenlock Edge, Merciless Beauty, Ten Blake Songs, and other songs
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams (Text by Walt Whitman): A Sea Symphony, No. 1:
    · A Song for all Seas, all Ships
    · On the Beach at Night, alone
    · Scherzo—­The Waves
    · The Explorers─Yvonne Kenny, soprano; Brian Rayner Cook, baritone; The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Bryden Thomson, conductor

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Home and Politics

There has been so much going on in the news lately to utterly exasperate me. Politics. The past several weeks I've been paying more than the usual attention to the news. I feel it is my citizen duty. I worry about the detrimental effects of complacency, but I have to admit, it has taken a serious toll on my peace of mine. The price of vigilance is high anxiety.

I am so grateful to alternative news sources like Democracy Now!, a program I wasn't able to listen to in the past because it seemed so dour and radical and mean-spirited and downright impolite and Amy Goodman seemed like the modern Cassandra. But what she was talking about months ago is now mainstream news. The big networks have caught up with her. So have I. And, lest we forget, Cassandra was right.

Unfortunately, by the time it becomes mainstream news, we are comfortable sipping our tea and discussing the nuances of U.S.-sanctioned torture without it causing any too much personal distress.

There are so many articulate people decrying the hits the Constitution has been taking. I have been chomping at the bit to post about each major issue that makes my blood boil, but I haven't had the discipline to compose my thoughts. Besides, others seem to do it so much better than I do. But is anyone listening?

We don't have cable in our home, so I don't see what the mainstream is dishing out. I have been relying on podcasts of shows like Democracy Now!, To the Point, The Thom Hartmann Show, and On Point.

On the lighter side, there's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me and Le Show. I also listen to Left, Right, and Center on Friday, because I like the weekend wrap-up format.

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me offers many hilarious moments, and can be quite refreshingly irreverent.

The long running Le Show out of Santa Monica is so unpolished, it's kind of lame, but that brings to it a kind of intimacy which intrigues me, and Harry Shearer is so endearing, I can't resist. Plus, the spoofs and satirical songs can be very entertaining.

On Point deals with current news as well as sundry other topics, which I love. Recently a show on Rumi inspired me, not because it was particularly well done, but because the sensibility of the great poetry managed to squeak through even in a stale talk show format. Tom Ashbrook's questions can be kind of goofy sometimes. He's strong on politics, but other areas he can be embarrassingly awkward; e.g., his recent interviews of Garrison Keillor and Nellie McKay.

My favorite is KCRW's To the Point, hosted by Warren Olney. His manner and presentation are rather dry, but I find his topics always to be the most timely and his judgment of what is important to talk about spot on. His questions are intelligent and thoughtful, and he does a very good job of balancing perspectives with his choice of guests.

I like Thom Hartmann because he deals with the relevant and urgent issues in the news, but is optimistic and upbeat in his outlook, believing that popular reason and activism will ultimately prevail over injustice. I just find his frequent didactic tirades against the evils of Reaganomics to be tiresome, however valid they may be.

But Democracy Now! answers to no one but its own reputation, and has
the courage to pursue stories that other outlets won't touch. Amy Goodman is a great blessing, and champion and a stunning example of unleashed free speech. I really wish more people would listen or watch her weekday program.

There is plenty to march in the streets about, plenty to fill letters to barrage our representatives about, but daily life is distracting.

I love my family. My wife Meera, and my boys, Julian and Gabriel. I remember clinging to Julian on the morning of September 11, 2001. I wanted to protect this unsuspecting toddler of mine from the horrors of a new and daunting era that was already apparent in the first hours following the Twin Towers' collapse. But I had no idea how this administration would exploit the event. I was uninformed and naive.

The suffering of the world, the outrageous injustices, are all there for the picking, and there's only so much an individual can do. But individuals have done great things, and effected great change. One person can do only so much, and yet so much. It's luck, its timing. When the masses are ready, the masses revolt.

I don't know what the solution to the world's or the country's problems are, but I do think GWB is a dangerous man, and I praise presidential term limits.

I don't know what my role will be to resist what's going on right now, but I am determined to do something.

I don't think our presence in Iraq does anything but cause suffering. I don't buy the argument that we broke it, so we need to fix it. All we are doing is breaking it more. We need to get the hell out of the china shop, and let the sovereign proprietors begin to clean up the shards.

I realize that my private life, the love that binds my family, is the most precious thing to me. It also binds me to the rest of humanity. But, careful, I don't want to think about the shattered families in Iraq, the result of civilian casualties. Who does? Inconvenient.

I need to put my thoughts to blog. It might not make a difference to those who read it, but it will help me to focus and to cope, even if it doesn't effect any real change. And yet, change is imperative. We do what we can and must do.

This post is scattered and ragged, I know. That's my state of mind. There's too much to think about, too much to speak out about. Too much anguish. But I have hope, and I will forge ahead, and kiss the heads of each member of my family every chance I get.


    From Sunday's playlist...

  • J.S. Bach: Jesus Christus Unser Heiland, Choral BWV 688 (Grande Version)─Lionel Rogg, organ─Bach: Organ Works, Disc 11: Catechism Preludes, 2/Schübler Chorales
  • Gregorian Chant: Halleluia + Psalm 117 (116), 1-2 + Doxologie(10 times Alleluia)─Capella Antiqua Munchen; Konrad Ruhland, conductor─Paschale Mysterium
  • J.S. Bach: Aria (Alto I, Chorus) «Sehet, Jesus Hat Die Hand»─Frans Brueggen conducting the Orchestra of the 18th Century─J.S. Bach: Matthaeus-Passion
  • Christe Redemptor omnium─Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice & Saint-Maur, Clervaux─Gregorian Chant
  • Vivaldi: Et in terra pax from Gloria in D Major, RV. 588─Wren Orchestra, conducted by George Guest─Magnum Mysterium II
  • W.A. Mozart: Missa brevis, K.220 - 1. Kyrie─Peter Neumann; Collegium Cartusianum, Kölner Kammerchor─Mozart: Masses
  • J.S.Bach: Messe A-Dur BWV234; Gloria. Aria─Chor "Pro Arte", Lausanne/Agnes Giebel(S), Gisela Litz(CA), Hermann Prey─J.S.Bach: Missae Breves
  • Gregorian Hymn: "Veni, creator spiritus" and Thomas Tallis: "Spem in Alium"─Rundfunkchor, Berlin; Simon Halsey, conductor─XL: Rundfunkchor Berlin
  • Aria (Pales): Schafe können sicher weiden─The Parley of Instruments; Roy Goodman; Emma Kirkby; Jennifer Smith─Bach: Hunt Cantata BWV 208, "Was Mir Behagt"
  • Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostria ─Choralschola of the Niederaltaicher Scholaren; Konrad Ruhland─Gregorian Chant
From an antediluvian playlist:
  • Lua Nha Testemunha─Cesaria Evora─The Very Best of Césaria Évora
  • Papa pique, Mama coud─Charles Trenet─Trenet: Boum!
  • Quilombo, O El Dorado Negro─Gilberto Gil─Beleza Tropical: Brazil Classics 1
  • Raga Lali─Brij Narayan, sarod; Zakir Hussain, tabla
  • Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Suite No. 17 in F Minor: Gigue─Konrad Junghänel, lute
  • J. S. Bach: Praeludium No. 11 in F Major (BWV 880)─The Swingle Singers─Jazz Sebastian Bach, Volume 1
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto for Oboe and Strings in F Major, BWV 1053─Neil Black, oboe; The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields; Neville Marriner, conductor─J.S. Bach: Four Concerti Transcribed
  • Schumann: Die Rose, Die Lilie, Die Taube─Theo Adam, bass─Schubert-Wolf-Schumann: Lieder
  • Chopin: Etudes Op.25, No.1 in A-Flat Major: Allegro Sostenuto─Maurizio Pollini, piano
  • The Blues Are Still Blue─Belle & Sebastian